During his 34-year watch over the Calgary commercial real estate industry’s interests, Bill Partridge has seen seven mayors and seven provincial premiers cycle through office — one of whom coined his memorable Twitter handle. First dubbed “Billy BOMA” by none other than Ralph Klein, the affectionate nickname is a perfect fit for a man who embodies the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) and its objectives in one of Canada’s most dynamic cities.
Partridge will retire as BOMA Calgary’s president and chief staff officer in December 2014, closing out a prolific career that has taken him from the public to private sector, and from a hometown in Canada’s original capital, Kingston, Ontario, to his chosen home in what many project as the country’s inevitable capital of commerce.
“I’m an Albertan who happens to have been born in Ontario,” he says.
Change and adaptability have been consistent themes in guiding a growing organization, which is Canada’s second largest BOMA local association, through an era of evolving social values, rapid technological advances and a seesaw of economic booms and busts that have defined the city.
“When I walked in the door, there were about 85 members and now we’re just below 600. I think there was one female on the roster, and now the split is about 50-50,” Partridge says. “Even with my own home, there were still cows grazing nearby when we moved in and now it’s considered almost inner-city.”
It’s a story familiar to many other Calgarians who have moved to the city, more than tripling its population over the past 40 years. His 1973 arrival — with a Master’s in Urban & Regional Planning from Queen’s University (and skis) in hand — to take a job in the city’s planning department was perfectly timed to catch the first OPEC-triggered oil crisis and subsequent boom times in Alberta.
“The population had just ticked over 400,000 and, in many respects, Calgary had preserved its small town mentality. It was sort of cozy. You’d see (then Premier) Peter Lougheed walking down the street all on his own and you’d say: Good morning, Mr. Lougheed,” Partridge recalls. “Now we are at 1.3 million, but we have still, in some ways, retained that close-knit feeling. It’s still pretty tight in our industry.”
Preparatory experience with the city of Calgary, a private planning consultancy and the development industry helped build a foundation of knowledge and contacts for the next stage of his career with BOMA Calgary. Signing on in November 1980, he initially envisioned staying in the role for about five years.
Since then, he has promoted professionalism, education and innovation on multiple fronts, whether in advocating for Calgary’s real estate and development industries within the political system, devising and supporting training for industry practitioners, or joining to organize BOMA associations as a network of strong and connected voices across the country.
“Bill is so passionate about this city and about this industry, and it just shows,” observes Jay de Nance, the founding chair of BOMA Calgary’s Next Gen committee and a current member of its board of directors, who calls Partridge a mentor and role model.
“Bill is going to leave a wonderful legacy in BOMA of ideas, projects, efficiencies and ways of thinking about things,” concurs Rod Kauffman, president of BOMA Seattle, who has worked with Partridge over the past 20 years on various BOMA International and Building Owners and Managers Institute (BOMI) committees and collaborative efforts among local associations in the Pacific Northwest region. “He’s one of those people who everybody likes immediately upon meeting him, and he’s known within BOMA as someone who will step up and lend his expertise.”
Innovation and professionalism
One of the earliest projects of his tenure, the BOMA Calgary Building Guide, is an entrenched and annually anticipated overview and update of the city’s commercial real estate portfolio – in which both the mayor and premier enthusiastically extend welcoming messages to prospective space seekers.
“When we introduced it in the early ’80s, it was the first publication of this type in the country,” Partridge says. “That has been an important element of promoting the industry, promoting our members and promoting Calgary as a place to do business.”
Under Partridge’s guidance, BOMA Calgary was also an early adopter of once pioneering forms of communication, now seen as the status quo. “We had the first BOMA website in the country. We had a website when people were still saying: the interWhat?” he reports.
Likewise a frontrunner in employing Twitter, his contemporaries — and their younger counterparts — express admiration for Partridge’s open embracing of new concepts and emerging innovations.
“Bill is very techie for one of us kind of older guys. He understands the technological tools a lot better than most people who have been around in the business as long as we have,” Kauffman notes. “He is also very entrepreneurial. Bill started a lot of good stuff and had a lot of the ideas that others have now successfully taken up.”
Notably, BOMA Calgary conceived and hosted the first BOMEX — Canada’s national conference and exposition, which will mark its 25th anniversary in 2015 — where the National Building Awards also debuted.
“At the time, there was nothing on the scene that was a unifying event for the industry,” Partridge says. “BOMEX was something of a linchpin that started bringing the chapters together nationally.”
Later, BOMA Calgary was a key proponent of adding the EARTH Award category, which recognizes leadership in sustainable management and best environmental practices, to the National Building Awards. As a certified association executive (CAE), Partridge also epitomizes professional standards both in the classroom as a former instructor for the Canadian Society of Association Executives and simply by example.
“Watching him in action for about 20 years, I’ve come to really appreciate his calm, deliberate and succinct manner in explaining and interpreting Board issues related to constitutional and bylaw matters,” says Paul LaBranche, executive vice president of BOMA British Columbia. “Association governance is a complex art and he’s the master craftsman.”
Mentorship and successor planning
For his part, Partridge calls the 2012 launch of BOMA Calgary’s Next Gen committee, specifically for members no older than 35, one of his favourite and most satisfying projects. It’s aligned with ongoing efforts to broaden the membership base, and attract and nurture successive generations of leadership that the industry needs.
“We have worked hard to encourage the corporate members to sign up their younger people. The Millennials are driving change in our society, and the generations have something to learn from each other,” he asserts.
Jay de Nance has experienced that belief in action, recounting how Partridge sought him out as a tentative new attendee at an industry event, asked his opinions and encouraged him to get involved.
“I stumbled into commercial real estate as a student,” explains the 26-year-old who is now director of tenant services with Fairfield Commercial Real Estate in Calgary. “Bill was interested in my career and would touch base with me all the time.”
That philosophy is also reflected in BOMA Calgary’s own staff: Lia Robinson, vice president, communications and client relations; Lloyd Suchet, director of government and regulatory affairs; Aydan Aslan, events and marketing coordinator; Ashley Grennier, administrative assistant; and Liz Krill, accounting.
“I have learned a great deal from Bill about commercial real estate and association management,” Robinson affirms. “He has been a mentor to me and created the space for me to grow my career at BOMA Calgary.”
In the course of building his own career, Partridge married Marg ‒ the education coordinator with the Real Estate Council of Alberta and a fellow émigré to Calgary (via New Jersey) ‒ they raised three children and now look forward to the arrival of their fourth grandchild.
“My next career is to perfect the way I spoil my grandchildren,” he quips.
Immediate post-retirement plans include relaxation and a trip to Scotland, with volunteer work beyond that. “The phone has been ringing,” Partridge acknowledges.
Meanwhile, as the lengthy job posting illustrates, BOMA Calgary’s board of directors has begun the task of finding a successor with the myriad skills on which it has relied for so many years.
“It’s hard to replace the irreplaceable,” de Nance says.
Bill Partridge’s last day on the job is December 19, 2014.